Commerce City - It was a routine play during a routine training session with the Colorado Rapids on August 11, 2009 when midfielder Colin Clark tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. The injury and following surgery would cause him to miss the remainder of the year.
At the time, the Fort Collins, Colo. native had played in 16 games, had scored three goals, and already had a career-high five assists. He was having such a good season that a month before the injury, he made his debut with the U.S. Men’s National team in a 2-2 draw with Haiti in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
On March 4, 2010 – 22 days before the first game of the 2010 season – Clark finally returned to the practice field and took part in his full-team training session. Over the next few weeks, he was slowly introduced into scrimmages and preseason games.
“I definitely had some great people I worked with coming back; Jaime Rojas, our trainer, and his wife (who is a physical therapist) for a couple of weeks,” said Clark. “Earlier in the preseason it was tough being on the turf. I was having little problems mentally and little problems physically as far as feet sticking in the ground. But that’s to be expected.”
By the time the season opener at Chivas USA on March 26 arrived, Rapids head coach Gary Smith felt Clark was ready to go and inserted him into the starting eleven at the left midfield spot.
“I think he’s a freak, physically, I really do,” said Smith of Clark’s return from injury. “I mean the amount of work that he gets through – I don’t know that many people that could recover the way he has and be as impactful physically as he was. You know, the ground that he covers in games, he’s phenomenal.”
Prior to the opening match, Clark’s main concern wasn’t his physical health, but how he would mentally react to live game action.
“I was running at a guy,” Clark recalled of the Chivas game. “I’d guess it was twenty minutes in, I tried to play a one-two with Omar (Cummings), and the guy came in late on me and kind of up-ended me. But I got up with no pain, and for my mental aspect of the injury, it was great.”
He didn’t take long getting back in the offensive action.
After narrowly missing wide on a long-range shot right before half, he found himself in the mix of things in the 56th minute, when he kept alive a ball in the box that fell to Cummings, who turned and scored the lone goal of the game. Twelve minutes later, Clark and Cummings combined on a nifty one-two, with Clark flicking back a header and Cummings returning the ball to the on-rushing midfielder. Clark shot with his right from the edge of the box, forcing keeper Dan Kennedy to make the save.
“It’s what I worked with (assistant coach) Steve Guppy on all the time; building confidence and having that confidence going forward in the game against Chivas,” he added. “So it’s nice to not really skip a beat with that.”
What did he think of his return?
“I’ve been ultra critical actually,” said Clark. “I gave the ball away a few too many times, and I actually created a chance for them that was, in the end, offside. For me, that is something that needs to be cleaned up; to have a better first touch and not get myself into trouble.”
Despite his own critiques, Coach Smith was happy to have the midfielder back.
“Of course his form and his choices on the ball will improve as we move along,” added the coach. “But I think we saw more of him as the game got stretched at the end. He had two or three fabulous deliveries, but his actual team ethic is wonderful, and it’s absolutely great to have him back.”